Meditations on 31 January 2010

"It would be easy to think that Matthews is just one Scotch away from becoming Ron Burgundy."

That was Jon Stewart a couple of nights ago on the subject of the egregious Christopher Matthews.  This bon mot was called forth by Matthews' idiotic statement after the State of the Union address that for an hour he didn't "see" the president as "black."  Racist?  No, just a reflection of an attitude so patronizing and paternalistic toward African-Americans that it has become reflexive.  Matthews says that the radical Republicans of 150 years ago are his heroes.  I believe that.  I also believe that he is just as narrow minded and hostile towards anyone who disagrees with him as they were.

Lately, I have been having a good deal of interaction with various parts of the executive branch of the federal government.  The most interestig thing that I have noticed in these dealings is the manner in which people in the assorted circles of interest and activity have adapted to the idea of unending war as a mode of existence.  To that end giant structures of expenditure have been built.  This is largely evidence of the human tendency to believe that whatever is, will continue indefinitely.  It is not really a plutocratic plot.  I know that is an unsatisfactory answer to many of you, but….. 

I have seen this adaptive behavior before.  The Vietnam adventure lasted 12 or 13 years depending on how you calculate.  After the first 5 or 6 years much the same thing happened.  People came to believe that the war in Southeast Asia would go on forever.  I remember many discussions with colleagues, both military and civilian in which it was argued that the war would last 25 years (meaning forever).  Various reasons were cited;  profits, graft, promotion, ideology, etc.  All of that was wrong.  In the end, the American people were convinced by skilled propaganda and political operations that the war could not be won.  When that happened, all the rest that happened was just a "summing up."  Sorry, that's the way I see it.

Now, the giant, ponderous, slow moving governmental, business and academic structures that have been grown to support "the long war" are self aware mature bureaucracies.  Self defense is their first imperative.

Some of the more intelligent among the denizens of those worlds can conceive of a time when the takfiri jihadis will be largely killed by JSOC and the like and the inchoate mass of Muslims who give the terrorists a modicum of support will have decided that they can wait for what they think of as "justice." 

Against that day some thought is being given to alternative "threats."  pl

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21 Responses to Meditations on 31 January 2010

  1. No doubt once the 1300 year old Christendom versus Islamic wars are done the Asian menace will loom. Yes no doubt warfare is basic to US foreign policy and relationships and not usually as a last resort. Because the Democratic party continues to push forth non-veterans and persons not conversant with the history of the military in the US and nervous about as opposed to confident in their knowledge of civil/military relationships and what they should be in a democracy (Republic) we will see few challenges to that paradigm.

  2. Lysander says:

    I don’t believe takfiri jihadis defined as “al qaida” are even a blip on the radar screen of America’s future. Should a decline in US super power status ever occur, they will have played no part beyond perhaps luring the US into costly occupations.
    America’s problem with the Muslim world is that while there are very few takfiri jihadis, there is still the Taliban, there is still, Iraq, there is still Iran. Even reliable Turkey is making noises.
    Comparing US influence in the Middle East today to this time in 2002, its not hard to get the impression that the trend is not on America’s side.
    Of course that trend might be reversed, but killing the takfiris, one and all, wont be what makes that happen.

  3. Andy says:

    Col. Lang,
    Along those lines, there is this recent report and Congressional testimony by the CBO is sobering:

    A large and persistent imbalance between federal spending and revenues is apparent in CBO’s projections for the next 10 years and will be exacerbated in coming decades by the aging of the population and the rising costs of health care. That imbalance stems from policy choices made over many years. As a result of those choices, U.S. fiscal policy is on an unsustainable path to an extent that cannot be solved by minor tinkering. The country faces a fundamental disconnect between the services that people expect the government to provide, particularly in the form of benefits for older Americans, and the tax revenues that people are willing to send to the government to finance those services. That fundamental disconnect will have to be addressed in some way if the nation is to avoid serious long-term damage to the economy and to the well-being of the population.

    That is all a very polite way of saying we are headed toward national insolvency. The CBO estimates indicate that under a best-case scenario we’ll be spending about $700 billion a year in 2020 just in interest on the national debt (we’re currently paying above $300 billion). It’s likely to be closer to $1 trillion which will be our largest expense short of Medicare and Social Security. The CBO is also projecting an average deficit of around $700 billion a year over the next decade.
    We’ve been able, thus far, to kick the can down the road (indeed, my government has run deficits for my entire lifetime except for three years during the tech bubble economy) but the numbers have become so big and the momentum so large that a crisis may be much nearer than we would like to believe. There are some very hard decisions that will be made, one way or another, with regard to our national priorities once it becomes clear that extricating ourselves from national insolvency is going to require large tax increases as well as deep cuts in government spending. The “long war” bureaucracy will not be immune, nor will the political establishment who, like Matthews, are too blinded to see that their tired ideological bleating is just as unsustainable.

  4. @Andy,
    I would argue that as a nation, we are already “insolvent,” but like the banking institutions we currently prop up, our national currency is simply “too big to fail” right now.
    It is not a situation that will last forever. For the banks… or for us.

  5. “the idea of un-ending war as a mode of existence. To that end giant structures of expenditure have been built.”
    The very conservative Republican strategist, Kevin Phillips, did a pretty good job in his book “American Theocracy” (new York: Viking, 2006) raising issues of radical religion, geopolitics, and “borrowed money” as he put it.
    And Paul Kennedy’s scholarly tome: “The Rise and Fall of Great Powers” (News York: Random House, 1987)is suggestive.
    Last week, some of my students and I got into an interesting discussion of the downward drift of Spain after Charles V…the delusional and incompetent elites which followed him beginning with his son.
    There have been a number of financially difficult times in the US: Panics of 1819, 1837, 1857, 1893, 1907 and so on. Then “The Crash” and “Depression.” I well remember conversations with my late parents about life during the Depression.
    The long war proponents seem to be living in a delusion which presupposes the US economy and taxpayers can sustain it.
    More sophisticated international types, at higher levels than the rather provincial Washington Beltway crowd, in foreign capitals and money centers meanwhile are calculating the implications of the shifting “correlation of forces”/balance of power…

  6. walrus says:

    Col. Lang,
    “Against that day some thought is being given to alternative “threats.” pl”
    I’m reminded of Churchills comment on strategy remembering the veterinarian who tried to give medicine to a bear by blowing it down it’s throat. He rolled it up in a piece of paper, pointed it down the bear’s nose – but the bear blew first.
    What happens when critical mass is reached among people and countries that see the U.S. as “The threat” – the problem and not the solution? For example, the American demonisation of Islam was in part understandable because of 911 and our own experiences.
    However, I’m not sure if a suitable replacement candidate demon can again be selected without opposition from the rest of the world, unless said demon self selects by attacking the U.S.A. But Hey! There’s always Canada!
    There is a massive range of issues, not just defence issues, from climate change to the protection of intellectual property where the U.S. is dramatically at odds with the rest of the world, developed and undeveloped, and where the U.S.A. is most definitely not on the side of the angels, and it irritates people.
    In a “globalised” world, decisions made in Washington can have considerable ramifications for non – Americans outside the U.S.A. If those are seen as totally self serving hypocritical decisions, made on behalf of special interest groups, then at some stage pressure is going to be applied on Governments to be less than accommodating to American wishes.
    To put it another way; I know the standard American answer to the question I just posed is: “screw the rest of the world” What happens if the rest of the world, like Churchills bear, decides to return the favour first?

  7. VietnamVet says:

    My ability to predict the course of American history is nearing nil. I was sure that when millions lost their analog TV signals, there would be protests in the street. Nothing happened.
    Still, America cannot continue borrowing money to fight two Middle East wars. At least the Spanish Empire had all that Aztec gold to spend conquering Europe until they went broke way short of the mark. China is ticked that USA is selling billions of dollars of armaments to Taiwan. The credit card war payments will be due any day. Could that be why the Generals are talking negotiations instead of killing every Muslim SOB?
    Where are the protests when Obama Administration privatizes NASA. That is even more radical than the Bush Administration in the wrong direction. What American citizens need are jobs not privatization, tax cuts and a helping hand to wealthy war profiteers and space launch corporations.

  8. Byron Raum says:

    It seems to me that this desire for war is a subliminal need, nay, even craving on the part of a subset of the human population for an enemy to hate. While the Cold War was “resolved” in a manner that many found satisfactory, the prosperity of the 90’s left this craving unfulfilled until 9/11. The bureacracies you mention are built to fill this void. Our movies are full of violence, of heroes that are provided with enemies to destroy in a morally satisfying way. They are the way they are because they are fulfilling the same need. Their customers are the same.
    This problem is not going to be completely resolved until humanity gets over its sickness. I can even suggest a very gloomy connection. Europe and the West achieved a somewhat high form of civilization and prosperity because military technology got so good that enough of the sick people eventually killed each off that the rest of us were able to get something built. Unfortunately, with the quiet of the last few generations this temporary immunity has now been considerably eroded. I would recommend “last and first men” by Olaf Stapledon, written in 1930, which is a history of the human species over two billion years. It projects the past into the future and is therefore completely contrary to the Star Trek variant that seems to be the underlying theme of optimism that most Americans expect. It is useful as a study of alternate possibilities and pays greater attention to human nature and what we may expect of it.
    The sad thing is that these things have such a grip of some of our fellow men that we simply cannot expect rational behavior from many of them.

  9. NASA’s best hope now is for the equivalent of a “Sputnik” from a foreign nation to help focus on how the US lost the space race!
    Personally I believe that both the elites in the US both political and economic are firmly in control and unwilling to invest in the futuer of the US! Why? They basically lack vision of the unique contributions the American revolution gave the world, specifically that a free people could govern themselves without creating a system that rewards all segments of society not just the elites. Passage of medicare was designed to prevent bankruptcy of the middle class that were starting to pay the costs of their elders for medical care that was growing in both its technological and scientific competence largely because of WWII experience and government funding. What the medical elites did not recognize is that system was not one in which its potential revenues were unlimited. Just as the politicians now do not recognize the finite nature of a nation’s resources, even one given the resources of a continent to exploit over several centuries. Too bad we (US) cannot see the future but I find it interesting that we (US) also fail to look back at what fortune or God or whatever favored the US with over the last several centuries. Just finished an article indicating that China wants to be the world’s technologically leader in rapid transit by 2020. Why not US?

  10. Patrick Lang says:

    I, too, thought it “a loser.” I thought that before I went over the first time, but, it was my duty and I did it, as you did.
    Could the war have been won? Probably. Something like “Linebacker II” might have convinced the other side to compromise, but, what would have been the point? pl

  11. curious says:

    Where are the protests when Obama Administration privatizes NASA. …the wrong direction.
    Posted by: VietnamVet | 31 January 2010 at 06:28 PM
    NASA size is 17,900 with US$17.6 billion (FY 2009)
    That’s a million buck per employee!!!!
    comparison: Boeing average revenue per employee is $200K. ESA budget is $5.4B USD (21010) Or compared to company like Roscosmos or even scarier chinese CNSA ($1.3B)
    more importantly, are they doing what they suppose to do?
    (5) The preservation of the role of the United States as a leader in aeronautical and space science and technology and in the application thereof to the conduct of peaceful activities within and outside the atmosphere;
    KINDA hard to claim “leadership” position if they can’t even get it up there. (see NASA launch statistic and compare it to other companies or rival agencies.) (and what do they got to show? few marginal scientific papers a year? Give the money to more competent people I say. Plenty of bright phd students ready for real science exploration at NSF)
    few thousand people dislocated because of NASA policy change? In exchange to fueling company such as spaceX, Bigelow Aerospace, Xcor..etc
    NASA time is up. They can’t show they are functioning, so off the chopping block. Plenty of real scientist and engineers ready for space challenge.

  12. Jose says:

    Looks like we are getting ready to hit Iran, just what we need.
    Leon Panetta
    “Now, the giant, ponderous, slow moving governmental, business and academic structures that have been grown to support “the long war” are self aware mature bureaucracies. Self defense is their first imperative.” – pl
    Are we going to hit Iran because of our failures in GOWT and the needs (of all above) to justify their existence?

  13. RAISER William says:

    “Could the war (Vietnam) have been won? Probably.”
    I suspect not, but that’s arguable. Your great insight (missed on most today): “… but, what would have been the point?”
    Sad what you see in Washington today. Equally sad what you don’t see in the streets and on the university campuses.
    Thanks for sharing your inside experience.

  14. anna missed says:

    The long war presumption is predicated upon the fear of failure. But, when the presumption of that fear itself is rendered as to be pointless, or overinflated, then the presumption itself becomes moot.
    In spite of the fact that the whole enterprise itself is presumed to be in ones self interest in the first place.
    I think this is called “self deception”.

  15. anna missed says:

    Or I suppose we should ask ourselves what exactly would be so different if we had “won” the war in Vietnam?

  16. Redhand says:

    Lately, I have been having a good deal of interaction with various parts of the executive branch of the federal government. * * * people in the assorted circles of interest and activity have adapted to the idea of unending war as a mode of existence.
    As George Orwell put it, “War is Peace.”

  17. mo says:

    Probably besides the point of the topic but I do not believe that “the inchoate mass of Muslims who give the terrorists a modicum of support” are interested in any “justice” as those that do fight for justice do not do so in the cowardly and evil way of the Wahabis or give them any support.

  18. Patrick Lang says:

    you should know by now that i respect your religious beliefs even though i do not share them. nevertheless, in this as in all things, islam remains a religion of laymen. your islam and that of the many who cheer when watching video of the fall of the two towers are not the same.
    who can say what the deity thinks? that is beyond our knowledge. pl

  19. Patrick Lang says:

    several million vietnamese could have remained in their homeland. pl

  20. Fred Strack says:

    Never watch Matthews anymore. It’s all about his ego now. Even the ads for his show make me cringe. As to the national debt, my, my where was all that outrage during the last 8 years of ‘off the books’ wars? Or perhaps we as a people actually believe Tom Delay’s statement that Tax cuts are the most important thing in time of war? God forbid we raise taxes.
    NASA being privatized? There’s a shock that the local congressman is upset, even if his party has been pushing ‘privatization’ since before Reagan? Of course they haven’t privatized the TVA or the BPA.

  21. walrus says:

    Col. Lang,
    I agree that Institutions end up existing for their own sake if not severely managed and pruned.
    I still cannot convey my revulsion, as a junior executive with the worlds biggest oil company, and a former infantry officer, when one of my senior managers gleefully described his time in Vietnam – building fuel depots, only to have to rebuild them again and again after the VC mortared them. He and the company made much money out of it. I left the company shortly after, having seen the military industrial complex, red of tooth and claw.
    I can imagine whole hordes of the likes of that senior manager feeding off Afghanistan, Iraq and soon, Iran.

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